USC to postpone in-person commencement and adjust grading policy for the semester

USC will continue to provide housing, food and support to students who have received permission of stay in the university housing.

USC announced that it will postpone in-person commencement activities and that students will have the option to take courses either as pass/fail or for a letter grade, according to a community-wide email sent from the Office of the President Friday afternoon.

This announcement arrives after the City of Los Angeles, Los Angeles County and the State of California all asked residents to stay at home to combat the spread of COVID-19.

An in-person commencement scheduled for May 15, eight weeks from Friday, will not be possible because the ceremony usually brings 65,000 to 80,000 people of all ages from around the world together, according to the email memo written by President Carol Folt and Provost Charles Zukoski.

“That is why we are writing today to tell you that we have decided to postpone but not eliminate all USC in-person commencement 2020 activities,” the email wrote.

The university will instead hold virtual conferring of degrees in May and mail the diplomas to students. USC also urges people to cancel travel plans and other arrangements for the in-person commencement, according to the email.

“We plan to have an in-person, on-campus celebration that will take place once travel and large group events become safe and permitted,” the email said.

On March 16, USC announced to finish the rest of the academic semester remotely. In the past four days, a petition on asking USC to give students the option to change all Spring Grades to pass/no pass has received more than 2,600 signatures.

Acknowledging concerns from students, the Friday email announced that the university administration, the Academic Senate and the deans all agree that “students will have the option to take courses either as pass/fail or for a letter grade, with the choice to be determined by the student.”

In a separate memo shortly after the Friday announcement, Zukoski explained more details about options for course grades and withdrawals.

The deadline for undergraduate students to select the Pass/No Pass option is April 24, 2020, according to the memo. Graduate students should contact their schools to determine the availability of the Pass/No Pass option.

For Spring 2020 only, courses taken for Pass/No Pass will count towards all major, minor, and university graduation requirements for all undergraduate students, the memo said. USC will also lift the 24-unit limit on courses taken Pass/No Pass for this semester.

The university also has extended course withdrawal deadline to May 1, 2020.

Pass/No Pass grades do not affect a student’s GPA.

“This is a time of anxiety and uncertainty, and we seek to help ease the pressure when we continue spring semester remotely beginning Monday,” Zukoski wrote.

Students who have left the university housing during Spring Recess cannot return to campus to retrieve their belongings until the university contacts students with details for a safe and orderly process, according to Folt’s email.

“If you attempt to return to campus without prior permission, you will be turned away,” the email said.

If students who have left the university housing have an immediate health or safety reason to access the residence hall, please contact USC Housing at or call the USC COVID-19 24-hour hotline at (213) 740-6291.

The university will continue to offer help in regard to housing, food and support for students who received permission to stay in university housing “on a temporary basis,” according to the email.

“At this point, we need to work with each of you to find a long-term solution to reduce significantly the numbers of students still living in university housing,” the email reads. “We understand for some of you, particularly given new travel restrictions, remaining here may be the only solution for now. We will work with each of you to develop a plan, and will move quickly. For those who need to stay, please be aware that we may need to move you to a different room.”

A housing FAQ page on USC’s coronavirus information website says the plan is to move students to individual rooms and bathrooms, following CDC guidelines. In an email to residents Friday evening, USC Housing is asking students who need to remain in university residence to submit a new request by Sunday.

“If you believe your circumstances require you to remain in USC Housing, please submit a new request via this survey in the USC Housing application portal detailing those circumstances,” the email said. “Requests must be submitted by Sunday, March 22nd at 5:00 pm. Responses to the request to remain in university housing will be reviewed within 24 hours.”

USC Housing is asking students who are staying in USC Housing to go home to their permanent address if they are able to do so, according to the email.

“We understand this may be complicated and time-consuming as arrangements are made, but please let us know you are able to leave via the survey in the USC Housing application portal,” the email said.

According to the FAQ page, USC Housing will allow international students from countries with travel restrictions and students who have nowhere else to live to stay in USC Housing. USC is encouraging students who have financial burdens of moving, storage and travel to reach out to USC Campus Support & Intervention.

The university will not grant access to residence halls to any guests or any students “seeking to return after having traveled during recess,” Folt wrote.

“Importantly, we will continue to provide housing, food, and support for as long as you are in residential housing. USC Student Health will remain in operation to serve students," the USC Housing email said.

USC has announced that there will be a pro-rata credit or refund for housing and dining fees to students’ accounts, but the university has not figured out details for that yet.

USC campus will reduce public access in accordance with the order issued by the city and the county, according to Folt’s email.

“For now, the Trader Joe’s and Target at USC Village remain open to the public, as do restaurants that are providing take-out service. Access to the University Park Campus, however, will be through a limited number of entrances open only between the hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., and we will not permit any social gatherings,” the email reads.

The Provost Office told Annenberg Media that students who are allowed to remain in on-campus housing will have access to campus after 6 p.m.

USC Student Health will remain open and operational, including approved in-person appointments.

“We are canceling some appointments. For example, we won’t provide any in-person appointments for things that are considered routine. We will still have in-person appointments for sick, injury or needs to have care,” USC Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman said in a press briefing via Zoom Friday noon. “Everything will actually first go through a TeleHealth or nurse.”

At this point, medical and mental health services via TeleHealth from USC Student Health are only available to students who live in California due to current federal and state laws.

Van Orman said in the briefing that USC Student Health does not recommend people who are not sick to wear face masks routinely.

“We still don’t recommend masks. We have a huge shortage of masks. We have a huge shortage of personal protective equipment. It’s actually at a crisis level within our healthcare facilities,” she said. “So I really urge everyone to avoid using personal protective equipment if they don’t need it.”

The function of a face mask is to keep somebody from coughing or sneezing on you and to keep you from touching your mouth, according to Van Orman.

“You can achieve exactly the same thing by social distance and by hand washing,” she said. “It’s really a critical issue right now to permit our healthcare workers to have access to personal protective equipment they need.”

In the press briefing, Van Orman also said the university will no longer send community-wide notification about new COVID-19 cases. The university will take an “individualized approach” to notify people who have exposure risks.

Update made on 9:05 p.m., March 21: This story has been updated with information related to a USC Housing email.